Strikes by dockworkers for better pay and conditions at the Port of Hong Kong have now entered their 13th day with little sign of resolution.
Shipment delays to and from Hong Kong are ongoing as productivity at facilities run by Hongkong International Terminals — a subsidiary of global port giant Hutchison Port Holdings Trust (HPH Trust) and the main target of the action — continue to be affected by shortages of crane operators and other key workers.
Multiple carriers have now skipped calls at the world’s third-largest container port, and the delays and rerouting of vessels are having a knock-on impact across Asia-Europe and trans-Pacific liner schedules as some carriers are forced to transfer part of their hub transshipment operations to alternative port facilities.
SBS Worldwide said most of its customers already ship out of Shenzhen and are not affected, “but the strikes are causing vessels to divert or to change hub ports from Hong Kong to Shenzhen or Singapore, so this may cause some delays to cargo destined further afield.”
BDP International’s general manager for Hong Kong and South China, Jacques Chan, said most carriers are advising that the berthing and departure time of their vessels at HIT are being delayed from two to four days on average. “Some of the vessels omit calling HIT, discharge Hong Kong local cargo in Shenzhen ports and Singapore, and carry the cargo back to Hong Kong via other vessels that will not berth HIT,” Chan said.
BDP Hong Kong is working closely with carriers and customers to switch the loading terminal for export shipments. “We anticipate that the vessel delays from HIT will have ripple effects — both ETA and ETD — on the subsequent ports to be called, if the strike does not end in a short period of time,” Chan said.
Based on tracking of Automatic Identification Systems by Lloyd’s List Intelligence, over the April 1-7 period, 110 container ships were steaming toward Hong Kong, although not all were due to be handled by HIT.
Panalpina, citing a liner source, told the JOC that more than 90 vessels are scheduled to call at HIT in the next 72 hours, with vessel waiting times now 40 to 55 hours on average, but incoming vessels are suffering delays of some 72 hours because of low crane productivity at HIT, where average crane moves per hour have now fallen to around 20 to 23.
A survey of members by the Hong Kong Association of Freight Forwarding and Logistics revealed that the range of shipment delays for different lines to and from Hong Kong varies hugely and depends on whether cargo is for import or export.
Shipments with APL, CMA CGM and MOL are reported to be suffering export and import delays of up to seven days and two to five days, respectively, with the length of time lost dependent on how the cargo is rerouted to alternative ports or if the delay is due to berth congestion at HIT’s facilities. Export delays of up to six days have also been reported for OOCL and Hapag-Lloyd services.
CMA CGM Group is minimizing delays by inverting certain loops to nearby South China ports and relocating certain calls to neighboring Hong Kong terminals, a spokesperson said.
APL was unable to comment on the exact length of delays suffered, but a spokesperson said the productivity of the line’s Hong Kong operations had now been restored to 90 percent. “APL will continue to monitor the situation at HIT closely,” the company said. “We are actively managing the operations to minimize any disruption to our customers.”
OOCL would not confirm or clarify any delays it is suffering, while MOL and Hapag-Lloyd were unable to respond before the JOC went to press.
HIT, which last Friday secured a court order to extend an injunction preventing demonstrators from entering its premises, has so far refused to enter pay discussions with the striking dockers that are employed by third parties to work at its terminals. Dockers, meanwhile, have indicated their willingness to open talks with employers, but only if HIT representatives also participate.
“Although the order also permits not more than 80 union members to conduct peaceful picketing in a designated staff car park within HIT’s premises, terminal operations are not expected to be affected,” said a statement from HPH Trust. “While industrial actions are continuing, the terminal operations are gradually returning to normal.”
Forwarders contacted by the JOC were not confident a resolution would be reached in the short term. “Although the government is encouraging the workers and terminal operators to communicate,” SBS said, “the parties have yet to agree a timetable for meaningful talks that may bring about a settlement.”
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